BY DANIEL WRIGHT-MASON – Editor in Chief
For many waking up across Britain, the results of the 2019 General Election may seem like some sort of sick dream, brought on by the excess stress of Christmas shopping. However, the reality of the biggest Conservative majority since 1987 is very much reality, and there are several key factors that can explain why.
- Firstly, and almost certainly crucially, the results of the election echo’s the clear message, get Brexit done. It was this message, which played the role of the primary soundbite of Boris Johnson’s campaign, that sent waves throughout Labours northern heartlands, and punctured the so called ‘red wall’. 98% of the 52 seats the Labour Party lost in England (excluding Kensington, an outlier that will be discussed later on), voted to leave the European Union in 2016, with an average vote of 60% towards leave. Of these seats, the results show it was a consistent combination of the Conservative and Brexit parties taking huge swathes of votes off of Labour. Throughout Labours English seat loses, they averaged a 12.5% decrease in their vote from 2017, which was almost completely matched by an average increase of 5.5% for the Conservative party, and 5.1% for the Brexit party. It is still unclear the exact reasoning that Nigel Farage decided to withdraw his candidates from all Conservative seats early in the campaign, with some sources suggesting it was pressure from lucrative donors, and other suggesting there were potential offers of a lordship on the table. However, whatever the reason was, Boris Johnson certainly owes the Brexit party a huge amount, as their splitting of the Labour vote arguably gifted him the election. Overall, despite the traditionally Labour nature of many seats won by the Conservatives, some won for the first time in generations, almost all evidence indicates that the issue of Brexit overrode all other issues for many in heavily ‘leave’ constituencies.
- Secondly, an uncomfortable truth for many in the Labour party is that despite his extreme grassroots support and achievements in reinvigorating a stagnant and stale Labour Party, it seems as though the unpopular public persona of Jeremy Corbyn has finally become his undoing. Leading up to the elections, many polls showed him at a record low of 60% net disapproval amongst the general public. There’s much debate about to what extent this is Corbyn’s own doing, with many suggesting his policies were too ‘radical’. However, the unprecedented attacks from the media that he has received since 2015 is impossible to ignore for even the staunchest anti-Corbynista, with the London Economist referring to him as the ‘most smeared British politician ever’, and suggesting that up to 75% of the media coverage he has received has been factually incorrect. This onslaught proved to be too much however, and despite the huge vote gains made in 2017, an election two years later proved incredibly unsuccessful, and seems to suggest that he had lost the war of his own personal image.
- Thirdly, not only did Labours seat numbers look historically deflated due to their huge decline in their northern heartlands, for the third election in a row they failed to make any inroads in Scotland. This, like in 2015, is due to the inroads made by the Scottish National Party, picking up 48 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. Whilst previous Labour leaders, even in years of extremes lows of voting, such as 2010, could rely on thirty to forty seats in Scotland, the current party does not have that luxury. This further adds to the depressingly low number of labour seats, as the similarly aligned SNP hovered up many of the left-wing votes in Scotland.
- Possibly the only party to rival Labour for underachieving in this election was the Liberal Democrats. From polling similar to Labour in the mid to low twenties mere weeks ago, the Lib dems managed to not only halve this predicted figure, but also managed to decrease their number of seats from an already underwhelming 12 to 11. As well as this, they spectacularly managed to lose the seat of their leader, Jo Swinson, who became a victim to the onslaught of the SNP in Scotland. However, it was arguably the entire methodology and impact of their campaign that helped the Conservatives win such a large majority. This is because from the very start of the campaign, instead of attempting to court the so called ‘moderate’ Conservative voters, Swinson aimed the entire message around attacking and targeting Labour voters and seats. This seemed to backfire terribly, as Swinson proved unable to win the favour of the general public, and attempted to switch the direction of the campaign back to attacking the Conservatives in the last few weeks of the election, seemingly to no avail. However, the suspected Lib Dem strategy of attempting to maximise their national vote, in order to save face, not only failed to win them many MP’s, but also took enough votes off of Labour for the Conservatives to win dozen more seats. This was made no clearer than in Kensington, where despite being narrowly won in 2017 by Labour for the first time in the seats existence, high profile ex-Conservative Sam Gyimah was selected as Liberal Democrat candidate, taking enough votes to ensure the Conservatives re-won the seat with only a 150-vote margin. It is clear that this extremely unsuccessful Liberal Democrat campaign, mixed with a very unpopular and very short-lived leader in Jo Swinson, had an impact in ensuring the Conservatives regained a large tally of seats.
- Developing on from this, the final big factor in the overall outcome of the election was the apparent cohesion between the two main ‘leave’ parties, compared to the infighting and apparent mismanaged alliances between ‘remain’ parties. Despite lots of calls for tactical voting and electoral pacts, the alliances between the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and occasionally Labour did not seem to manifest into any electoral advantage for supporters of remain, with there being an obvious failure to stop a Conservative majority, despite remain parties achieving more votes than ‘leave’ parties. In fact, it is generally seen that forms of tactical voting between the Brexit and Conservative parties proved far more effective in maximising seats for leave supporting candidates, which proved to be a big factor and highlighted the failures of the so-called progressive alliances.
Overall, the election result has been a sombre one for many people across the country, with the reality of a large Conservative majority government a terrifying prospect for many in a country with already rapidly rising inequality, crumbling infrastructure, and unprecedented modern levels of child poverty and food banks. It also spells an end to any potential change in the decision to leave the European Union, a political event that looks to change the British political landscape in ways not seen since Margaret Thatcher, or the Second World War. However, for progressives across the country, it is not the time to lose hope, but none the less I shall end this summary with a damning but necessary quote from ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock in 1983;
“If the Tories win on Thursday, I warn you do not be ordinary, I warn you do not be young, I warn you do not grow old, I warn you do not fall ill.”